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FBI Recognizes South Dakota School for Internet Safety Program

Fourth and fifth-grade students at Longfellow Elementary School, South Dakota won the FBI's Safe Online Surfing Award by testing highest on an exam as part of a curriculum about Internet safety.

by Erik Kaufman, The Daily Republic, Mitchell, S.D. / March 24, 2021

(TNS) — The online world offers so much. Entertainment. Education. Public services. Communication.

But it also hides dangers and pitfalls. Cyberbullying. Identity theft. Online predators.

Learning to navigate the ups and downs of the Internet can take years, but at least one set of students at Longfellow Elementary School in Mitchell is working ahead of the curve. The fourth and fifth grade students at the school were recently named the winner of the National Federal Bureau of Investigation Safe Online Surfing Award in the large school category for the month of December.

The students at Longfellow Elementary scored 91.60 percent to beat out every other participating school in the country in that category for the month. During December, a total of 162,185 students in 2,280 schools in all 50 states and United States territories took the exam nationwide to compete for the award.

Mary Krell, elementary guidance counselor for the Mitchell School District, said she implemented the FBI program as part of the school online safety curriculum about four years ago.

"I was researching ideas for teaching internet safety and ran across the FBI website. The content matched what we were teaching," Krell told the Mitchell Republic.

The program is all about fusing many of the old-school mantras of safety — avoiding strangers, knowing how to spot danger — with the digital world.

"Our Internet safety program goes all the way down to Kindergarten, we just use a different program for them than the one from the FBI. Just because those programs work better for them. But we focus on Internet safety and stranger danger and the things you should not put online and digital footprints," Krell said. "So, it's not the first time they hear about this information."

Teachers register their classes to be part of the program, which offers a variety of games and activities to boost their knowledge of online safety. Those activities are followed by a 30-minute test that gives them a score based on the accuracy and speed with which they complete it. The overall scores for each school are compared with the results of other schools nationwide with similar classroom sizes as part of a national monthly competition.

The top-scoring school in each category is awarded a certificate. An FBI special agent, Matt Miller, was on hand Tuesday morning to present the class with their certificate as well as take part in a question and answer session that allowed the students to learn about what an FBI agent does as part of their job.

It was wonderful to be recognized for the good performance, Krell said, as it shows the students are absorbing the information well. And there is a lot of information to take in, some of it constantly changing from year to year as new threats are discovered by experts online.

"I learn a new term every year, something new that is coming out that the kids need to be aware of. I'm learning along with them," Krell said. "And the technology is changing all the time."

Kevin Smith, a public affairs officer with the FBI Minneapolis Division, which oversees investigations in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, said the Safe Online Surfing program dovetails nicely from the bureau's larger role in fighting cybercrime both in the United States and around the world.

"Cyber threats are something that we all face, and it's one of our top priorities in the FBI to combat that threat," Smith said. "Not only through investigations, but also in working with the private sector. But our overall strategy is to impose risk and consequences and our cyber adversaries. We do that with a number of different partners in a number of different ways."

Educating the public, and especially the youth, helps ensure students and teachers avoid the common pitfalls that plague the Internet. The FBI focuses on a number of areas fighting cybercrime, including protecting personal information online, preventing identity theft, avoiding ransomware, understanding terms like spoofing and phishing and stopping online predators.

Children are among the most vulnerable victims when it comes to cybercrime, with offenses ranging from cyberbullying to abduction. When a child is reported missing to law enforcement, federal law requires that child be entered into the FBI's National Crime Information Center, known as NCIC. According to the FBI, in 2020 there were 365,348 NCIC entries for missing children. In 2019, the total number of missing children entries into NCIC was 421,394.

Giving school-age children the tools is crucial to them knowing how to avoid those kinds of dangers.

"What we try to do with this program for kids is really to get young people engaged in cyber safety at a young age. The Internet is not going anywhere. It's only going to get more pervasive in our lives," Smith said. "To be able to teach them at an early age on how to be safe online will only benefit them as they grow into adulthood."

The program also provides the FBI with a way to get a human face in front of the public. Smith said most people may go their whole lives without meeting an FBI agent, and it's important to remind people, and especially kids, that they and other law enforcement agencies are the good guys and can be approached or contacted if they feel threatened or need to report illegal activity.

"That may be the only contact they have with an FBI agent in their lives, and we want it to be a positive one. It's not every day you can go home and say you met an FBI agent. It's critical to our outreach. We need (the public) for our investigations," Smith said.

Krell said she and district teachers will continue to use a variety of programs to help bring the dangers of the online world to light for their students, as well as themselves, while adding their own personal touch. Smith said he and the bureau are enormously pleased with the positive response the program, which began in 2012, has received and hopes schools around the country will continue to find it useful.

"(The teachers) do a great job of administering the program. The teachers and schools really personalize it, and they make it a big deal to their students, which we appreciate," Smith said.

(c)2021 The Daily Republic (Mitchell, S.D.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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